Modern Day Wells Fargo Wagon Signals Community Attention

Like the people of River City, IA in the O. Meredith Wilson musical “The Music Man” the modern day version of the Wells Fargo wagon dropped off a package at my home just before Chanukah. The package was from my dear friend, Sandy Block, a lay leader and co-chair of the Celebration Company, a program of the Alexander Institute which was created to serve people with disabilities in the Houston Jewish Community. The Alexander Institute is part of a growing disability services department at Jewish Family Service of Houston TX.

Like the people of River City, IA in the O. Meredith Wilson musical “The Music Man” the modern day version of the Wells Fargo wagon dropped off a package at my home just before Chanukah. The package was from my dear friend, Sandy Block, a lay leader and co-chair of the Celebration Company, a program of the Alexander Institute which was created to serve people with disabilities in the Houston Jewish Community. The Alexander Institute is part of a growing disability services department at Jewish Family Service of Houston TX.

Inside the box were two kinds of attractively packaged beeswax candles, multi colored to burn during Chanukah, and white to light for Shabbat. I dug a little more and discovered a package of beautiful note cards created by Celebration Company entrepreneurs.

Yes, the people who are employed at Celebration Company are part of a growing trend to create entrepreneurial initiatives with people with disabilities. With support from community volunteers and the amazing staff at Celebration Company and Jewish Family Service of Houston, participants can make real contributions to community life.

The Houston folks believe that having a relationship with one’s sacred community means more than just sitting in a sanctuary. Sacred communities can be involved in many areas of the creation of a meaningful life such as  education, employment, housing and social inclusion. Celebration Company fulfills the responsibility of the sacred community with the practical aspects of everyday life by creating worthwhile and meaningful work.

I visited Celebration Company a little over a year ago. It’s quite an amazing operation. Besides producing Judaic related products, participants also have regular social skills group time. This time is used to enhance the social thinking of participants and create opportunities for them to interact with each other. Facilitated by the staff, participants share the events of their lives in much the same way that co-workers everywhere do.

According to Melissa, one of the participants, “The people at Celebration Company are not just my friends, they are my family.” And Kim states, “Now that I’m at Celebration Company I have friends. They are nice. They are always there for me.”

The Celebration Company is located close to the Jewish Community Center which has instituted a physical activity component for the participants. There is a kitchen and a laundry area so participants can learn more about important living skills. A cadre of dedicated volunteers come to Celebration Company to assist on projects and provide connections to the Jewish community. Even the bus, which picks up and returns all participants to the site, is used for time to connect with each other.

The Guiding Principles of Celebration Company are simple and reflect the values of Judaism:

  • Kol Yisroel arevim zeh la’zeh (All Jews are responsible for one another).
  • Celebration Company belongs to the participants
  • Every moment is precious
  • Everyone can learn. Meaningful participation that meets individual learning styles is everyone’s right.
  • Choosing to be part of the community is the first step toward self-determination
  • All stakeholders strive for excellence and continuous opportunities.

Celebration Company provides an important point of entry into both employment and the Jewish community. People with disabilities are embraced by the community and have the opportunity to be valued members of the community. It is done under the umbrella of sacred community and is an important step toward living a fulfilling life.

To learn more about Celebration Company go to http://www.jfshouston.org/celebrationco/aboutus.php

Shelly Christensen MA is Founder of Inclusion Innovations, LLC, which advises sacred communities on how to create welcoming and meaningful environments for people with disabilities and their families. She can be reached at shelly@inclusioninnovations.com

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